EdibMont — Spring 2013
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Stinging Nettle, Cannellini Bean and Farm Egg Soup

Courtesy Brad Briske, chef, La Balena in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Simply put, nettles should be enjoyed as nettles. Not many people have ever experienced the earthy iron-ness and meaty flavor of this garden weed. You want to avoid hiding or taking away from its pure beauty and flavor. They come just a few times a year, whether they're from your local farm at the farmers' market or the side of some random roadway. (I have my personal spots.) They appear around the time that wild mushrooms do, which is why nettles pair beautifully with wild mushrooms. But remember that they are painful if mishandled. Blanching will take out the sting, but be sure to use tongs to put them in the boiling water.

Stinging nettles
Cannellini beans
Farm eggs
Vegetable stock
Sprigs of thyme, tied together
Porcini oil
Olive oil
Old bread

Cut leeks into 1/4-inch rounds and place in a large pot. Sweat leeks in olive oil and salt. Add a splash of liquid (white wine, water or stock) to help soften and cook the leeks without browning. Slice the garlic and add when leeks are nice and soft, aka "buttery." A few minutes later, add soaked cannellini beans, vegetable stock and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are tender.

While beans are cooking, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch nettles for about half a minute and then plunge in a bowl of icy water. Strain nettles, discard ice water and return nettles to the bowl. Save the dark green juice that collects from the strained nettles at the bottom of the bowl. You can pick the leaves and discard the stems of wild nettles, but with tender cultivated farm nettles, I chop the whole thing. Add chopped nettles and the juice to the soup just before serving. Adjust with just a squeeze of lemon.

To finish, place one poached or fried-poached egg in each serving bowl and ladle the bright green nettle bean soup over the egg. Garnish with toasted torn bread and a drizzle of mushroom oil. Enjoy.

To make fried-poached eggs: In a smoking hot pan, crack an egg in oil and fry lightly before adding a ladle of boiling hot, salty pasta water and a few drops of vinegar. Turn off the burner to let the egg poach in the hot water. It's surprising that the yolks never break – it looks so violent for something so delicate when you add the boiling water to the hot oiled pan, but the eggs taste great. A traditional poached egg might be easier and less of a mess to clean up at home, but we do the fried-poached eggs at the restaurant.